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Man up: Redefining masculinity to combat workplace violence and harassment

July 18, 2023

I was recently on vacation on a beautiful Caribbean island and made my way to a local gym for the week. As I sweated through messy hair and no make up, many of the women were in full makeup and dressed to impress. And many of the men were incredibly buff and proud to show it. It struck me how our gender norms permeate every aspect of our lives. As a mom of a 12-year-old boy, the pressures society places on men to live up to male stereotypes is top of mind.

The concept of toxic masculinity has gained attention in recent years. It refers to harmful behaviours and societal expectations associated with gender “norms” and traditional notions of masculinity that can be detrimental to men and those around them. Understanding toxic masculinity’s damaging effects helps us recognize the importance of positive masculinity as an alternative.

Understanding Toxic Masculinity

Toxic masculinity can manifest in various harmful behaviours, such as suppressing emotions, aggression, dominance, perpetuating stereotypes and the objectification of women. Society’s rigid expectations surrounding masculinity often pressure men to conform to a limited and unrealistic definition of manhood. This leads to negative consequences, for men and others.

The Harmful Impact

Toxic masculinity perpetuates a cycle of harmful behaviours.

  1. Psychological and emotional impact: Men who suppress their emotions may suffer from higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, and lower self-esteem. The pressure to conform to rigid gender stereotypes can prevent men from seeking help and support when they need it most.
  2. Pressure to conform to harmful ideals: Toxic masculinity places immense pressure on men to conform to unrealistic and harmful ideals of strength, dominance, and self-reliance. When individuals feel unable to meet these expectations, they may experience feelings of inadequacy, shame, and isolation, which can contribute to mental health issues and an increased risk of suicide.
  3. Violence and Aggression: Toxic masculinity can contribute to a culture of violence and aggression. Men who adhere to toxic masculine norms may resort to physical force or aggression as a way to assert dominance or resolving conflicts.
  4. Objectification of women: Toxic masculinity promotes the objectification and mistreatment of women, contributing to a culture that normalizes violence, sexism, and harassment, particularly sexual and gender-based harassment.
  5. Sexual harassment: Sexual harassment is an unfortunate consequence of toxic masculinity. It perpetuates the notion that women are objects to be pursued, and their consent and boundaries may be disregarded.
  6. Gender inequality and stereotyping: Toxic masculinity reinforces gender inequality by promoting the idea that men are superior to women. It can contribute to the marginalization and oppression of women, limiting their opportunities and reinforcing stereotypes about their roles and abilities.
  7. Challenging healthy relationships: Toxic masculinity can negatively impact relationships. It can hinder effective communication, intimacy and emotional connection, as men struggle to express vulnerability or seek support.
  8. Homophobia and rigid gender roles: Toxic masculinity often enforces strict gender roles and perpetuates homophobia. It stigmatizes behaviours or traits that do not align with traditional masculine norms, leading to discrimination and prejudice against individuals who do not conform to these expectations.

Promoting Positive Masculinity

One solution lies in promoting positive masculinity, which encourages individuals to redefine and reimagine what it means to be a man. Positive masculinity recognizes that vulnerability, emotional intelligence, empathy, and respect for others are vital qualities for a well-rounded person.

Addressing toxic masculinity involves challenging and dismantling the harmful gender norms:

  1. Encourage emotional expression: Men should be encouraged to embrace and express their emotions openly, fostering healthier communication and connection with others. Expressing vulnerability and seeking support should be seen as signs of strength, not weakness. Promoting mental health awareness and support can help.
  2. Challenge stereotypes: Breaking free from the constraints of traditional gender roles is essential in promoting positive masculinity. Men should be encouraged to pursue diverse interests and career paths without fear of judgment or ridicule.
  3. Foster healthy relationships: Teaching young boys and men about consent, respect, and equality within relationships is crucial. By cultivating healthy relationship dynamics, we can reduce harmful behaviours and promote understanding and empathy.
  4. Role models: Positive male role models can help challenge stereotypes and inspire individuals to embody positive masculinity, depicting a diverse range of male experiences, emphasizing healthy and respectful behaviours.
  5. Education and awareness: Education about gender roles, toxic masculinity, and its effects should be integrated into workplace training programs. Increasing awareness and fostering dialogue around these topics helps to create a more inclusive and understanding workplace culture.

Breaking free from the shackles of toxic masculinity is an ongoing journey that requires collective effort. By promoting positive masculinity, we can create a culture where men are empowered to embrace their true selves, express their emotions, build healthy relationships, and contribute positively to their workplaces and communities. Workplaces benefit from fewer incidents of harassment, sexual harassment and violence, and a more respectful workplace culture. Embracing positive masculinity benefits not only men but also helps create a more equitable and inclusive society and workplace for all.